Carter pulled open the door, intrigued by his anonymous guest. Before him stood a woman of average height. She had long dark hair, matching her Indian ancestry, was dressed in clothing distinctive of the corporate class, and wore a cunning expression. Her nose was pushed up, and her eyes very narrow. Her jaw was sturdy, but her cheekbones were more defined. Carter analyzed every feature in an instant.
“Dr. Carter Rasmussen, what a pleasure!” She spoke, extending her left hand to shake his.
“Uh, yes,” Carter slowed down, intentionally fumbling before he extended his left hand towards the woman, trying to gain insight.
“My name is Sylvia Daniels,” she spoke before he could continue. I’ve come to propose a business arrangement of sorts. Would you be interested?”
“That would entirely depend on the business, Miss Daniels.”
“Please, call me Sylvia. May I come in Dr. Carter?”
Carter hesitated, but then nodded his head, stepping aside for her. She walked in, stealthily, surveying his apartment like a hawk scanning for prey. “I wonder, how it is that you were able to find me, Sylvia. I did not expect I would be disturbed so soon.”
“Yes, well, Dr. Carter, business is business. May I ask you a question?”
“You just did.” Carter did not fancy interruptions so late in the day, and he was starting to get annoyed, not the least of which because someone had once again managed to track him down.
“Yes, well,” she smiled, “why do you go by your first name instead of your last?”
“I find that humanity, in general, is comforted by the known rather than the unknown. In another place, I might be inclined to scrap altogether my birth name and adopt something more fitting the setting, as you have done, Alegris Vaadne.” He looked at her, throwing the whole weight of his contempt at the woman.
“Very good, Dr. Carter.” She spoke, pulling off an electronic skin mask as her true features revealed themselves—the distinct, noble refinement of the Valdawar class. “I was wondering when you would tell. If you don’t mind, would you tell me what gave it away?”
“Your speech, Alegris; it is always the same. It is too well thought out to allow for conversational spontaneity. This was your defining moment of failure as my student.” Carter walked behind his counter, pulled out scotch, and pouring two glasses.
Alegris smiled, unfazed, “And you, Dr. Carter, are witty as ever. I see years of mental solitude have done nothing to rob you of your intelligence, nor your cold-heartedness.”
“Oh, please, Alegris, you let far too much show. Even now, in attempting to cover up human emotion you reveal much more. You ask questions only someone who knew me would ever ask. You have much to learn.” He handed her a glass, watching as she downed the entirety of it in one fell swoop. “So, who is it this time? And what must I do to get them off my back?” Carter leaned back against the counter, measuring the probability of her statements at his lowest speed, still nowhere near anything attainable by his former student.
“I still remember when I read your thesis on human perception in that community college newspaper. It was one of the most imaginative works I had ever read.” Carter glared at her, determined to have an answer. “It’s Volderhaus.”
“I already rejected his proposal.”
“He doesn’t take no for an answer.”
“Well, then you can tell him he has a lot left to learn.”
“Would you believe it, that is exactly what I told him? Still, he is awfully insistent.” She traced her finger around the rim of the empty glass, batting her eyes, making Carter uncomfortable.
“Carter, you are coming with me. There is no way around it this time.” For a second she looked genuinely sad, but Carter had to slow down to catch that microexpression.
“And how does he anticipate doing that?”
“Don, Kale,” Alegris spoke, and Two huge men broke down the door. Seeing the danger, Carter snapped to action. He pressed a button beneath the lip of the counter, and the room filled with gas. In moments everyone lay on the ground, but Carter, having altered his genome to resist the toxic effects. The men hadn’t even understood what was going on before they were unconscious. He bent down towards Alegris, brushing a hand across her cheek as he looked into her paralyzed eyes. “You tell him this. Tell him I’m done hiding. It’s his turn to run.” He grabbed his jacket, opened the window that overlooked the city, and jumped out, falling countless stories to the ground below.